Manufacturing & Supply Chain

Plotting the future of industrial technology on the edge of Mullingar

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Plotting the future of industrial technology on the edge of Mullingar

Plotting the future of industrial technology on the edge of Mullingar
September 17
14:13 2020
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In an abandoned former cigarette plant on the edge of Mullingar, a group of researchers is plotting the future of Irish industrial technology. The repurposing of the old Imperial Tobacco site is emblematic of how the Irish Manufacturing Research Centre sees itself – building Ireland’s industrial base of the future on the foundations of the past, and present.

But this is not some dream factory for academic researchers preoccupied with blue-sky thinking. The centre is focused on the pragmatic manufacturing challenges of business today.

Nowhere was this more evident than in its response to Covid-19.

“As soon as Covid hit, we realised the country was in a place that it’s never been in before and that we were in a privileged position where the State had funded advanced manufacturing research,” says chief executive Barry Kennedy, a former quality control expert at Intel. “We made a decision, a business decision, to step up now and play our part.”

The first thing they did was use their 3D printers to pump out bands for making face shields for hospitals and clinics.

“I genuinely won’t ever forget – it was quite an upsetting day when an emergency department nurse from Mullingar General Hospital came in in a state and begged us for anything we could give her that looked remotely like PPE [personal protective equipment] because they had nothing.

“So we printed off loads of masks, face shields for them and got them down to them that afternoon. They’d literally take anything we had.”

The centre has been supplying Mullingar hospital as well as St James’s, Kerry General and hospices consistently since. It also started to work with client companies with spare capacity as orders dried up.

They helped them manage the switch over to producing PPE, leveraging their network of companies to develop new business links to access necessary materials for this new supply chain.

It has also worked extensively on developing an enclosed face mask to protect frontline workers and others, such as those in meat plants, who must work in close proximity to one another. And it has been involved in two separate ventilator projects.

Crisis genesis

But there is more to the Irish Manufacturing Research Centre (IMR) than responding to immediate crises like Covid. Its genesis came in the midst of our last crisis, after the 2008 financial crash. Kennedy was in a senior role at Intel at the time. Talking to his general manager, he noted Ireland’s near-unique position in having such a high density of major multinationals in relative close proximity to each other.

“And I said, ‘I wonder could we work collectively together on common challenges that would give another reason why the mothership wouldn’t move out of the country.’ ”

 

Reference: Irish Times

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